Linda White softly knocked on the wooden door before entering the room where the white-haired man lay reading the newspaper in the hospital bed.
“How’s the care up here?” she said after introducing herself as the president of Deaconess Health System.
“Amazing,” he answered with a smile, folding up his paper setting it on the tray next to his bed.
“What could we do to make it better?” she continued.
The man said he had given that some thought.
“I’ve been in two units here, internal medicine and ICU,” he said about the hospital in Evansville. “I came in needing a lot of care. I thought I met my angels.”
Minutes later when his nurse walked into the room to see if he needed anything, White passed along his compliment to her. The nurse, her blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail, smiled.
“That may be the only thank you she receives all day,” White said later after leaving the room.
White’s visits to the patients’ rooms are part of her routine and they come from Deaconess’ mission statement: “To provide quality health care services with a compassionate and caring spirit to persons, families and communities of the Tri-State.”
“It’s very simple. We live out our mission,” she said.
White, a 1970 Indiana State University graduate with a degree in mathematics, leads a city that never sleeps to provide comfort and healing to the sick.
“College offered the opportunity to explore critical thinking skills with a diverse group of individuals and faculty members,” she said. “This experience provided the setting for perpetual learning that is required in any profession in today’s fast moving world.”
She earned her bachelor’s in nursing in 1974 and her master’s in business administration in 1983, both from the University of Evansville.
“Health care was a natural attraction that combined technical skills, interpersonal skills and analytical skills,” she said. “There were far fewer professional careers open to women at the time. That has certainly changed.”
Rob McLin, a 1986 ISU graduate in management, serves as president and chief executive officer of Good Samaritan Hospital in Vincennes. After working for six years as a revenue agent with the Internal Revenue Service, McLin accepted an internal audit position with Good Samaritan. Since then, he has worked his way up through the hospital’s administration.
“The biggest thing I learned was the commitment to hard work and study,” he said about his studies at ISU. “The business classes I took at ISU required me to work on my communication skills as well as my analytical skills. Those classes requiring me to utilize my communication skills had a huge impact on helping me in my professional career.”
Now, White and McLin face challenges during a time when health care is undergoing dramatic changes.
“The whole system is being topsy-turveyed,” White said.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act signed into law on March 23, 2010, affects hospitals in addition to individuals. With about 50 million people in the United States uninsured, the goal of the act is to have about 32 million of those people insured by 2014.
”It is widely recognized that the reimbursement system that we have known for years is changing and that even though more people will be insured, providers (hospitals and physicians and other health care professionals) will be reimbursed with less dollars,” White said.
Currently, doctors, hospitals, pathologists and radiologists, bill separately for their services. Under the new health care regulations, that will change. With its planned bundle payments, the government will establish a set amount for a procedure and the providers must decide who receives different portions of the money.
Another issue facing hospital administrators concerns readmits of patients. If a patient released from the hospital is readmitted within a certain period of time, then the hospital will not be reimbursed for the patient’s treatment the second time, White said.
“We have a financial incentive to make sure you can take care of yourself and take your medications before we release you,” White said. “It’s all about good patient care, but there are some people who are just non-compliant.”
McLin agrees that finance is the most difficult task facing hospitals, including poor reimbursements from Medicare and Medicaid.
“With the economy doing so poorly since 2008, hospitals have seen a significant increase in self-pay patients and indigent patients. Both these sources result in very high bad debt levels,” McLin said. “While reimbursement levels continue to decline, operating expenses continue to increase as a result of inflation and wage/salary pressures.”
Both administrators agree about what hospitals face in their futures.
“Three critical areas where hospitals must excel in the future: low cost, high quality and high patient satisfaction,” McLin said.
White agreed that health care consumers have high expectations for medical care.
“We have empowered consumers who have access to more information than ever before,” she said.
But those expectations are being met, according to the administrators.
“I don’t know how unique it is, but I believe health care in Indiana (and typically the Midwest) is much more focused on being patient centered,” McLin said. “I believe we are far better at focusing on building positive relationships with the patients, their families and the communities that we serve.”
“Health care in Indiana represents high-quality care that is locally delivered,” White said.
White wants that high quality to show through in all areas. On Fridays, she and her team of directors from maintenance, public safety, medicine and more tour sections of the hospital. They speak to staff, patients, and observe the care being given in an area. On one visit, they watched nurses use an automated pharmaceutical dispersal system, which is linked to patients’ electronic medical record. They noted scratches in wall paint and stains on furniture.
“It’s very, very important to be aware of how services are perceived as we are a service industry,” White said.
Though a service industry, White said people who go into the medical fields want to make positive differences in others lives.
“The thing that was very, very heartwarming and a pleasant surprise was the extraordinary effort people make to help others they don’t know and haven’t met before,” White said about entering the health field. “There’s a calling to help others.”
She spoke of a nurse taking off her shoes to give to a discharged patient who had none. She told of staff making the effort to help families in crises beyond the medical ones they face. Those actions stem from compassion for individuals, she said.
“If we keep the patient as the center of our decision making, we will make the right decisions,” White said.
Jennifer Sicking is the associate director of media relations and the editor of Indiana State University Magazine